Since 2006, the State of the States report by Equality Federation has documented the strength and sustainability of state-based advocacy organizations that advance equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people in the communities they call home. Over the past ten years, State of the States has faithfully documented our movement’s triumphs and trials as reflected in the capacity of our state-based organizations. This year, we will maintain this spirit, while telling the story of our movement not just in numbers, but through the incredible work of our members. In the posts that follow, we’ll review the highlights from the culmination of recent data we collected from our members in hopes of providing an understanding of the current state-based LGBTQ movement, and look at what lies ahead for the future of the movement.

For Part 1, we turn our focus to organizational leadership, and the data we’ve collected from our member organizations reveal some interesting trends.

At Equality Federation, we’ve seen time and time again the difference that effective executive directors make in building state equality groups and the power of our movement. That’s why a top priority of our State Leadership Project is doing all we can to help state groups hire, develop, and retain the strong, resilient, and adaptive leaders they need.

Right now, 29 groups have executive director positions—73% of our 40 member organizations. The other 11 organizations operate with working volunteer boards.


As we’ve looked at what makes executive directors successful, one critical factor is longevity. A few years back, we saw that all too many state leaders weren’t lasting more than a year or two—too little time to make a lasting impact in most cases. Sometimes this was because under-prepared candidates were hired for the jobs and sometimes talented leaders didn’t get the support they needed to last.

This year’s State of the States survey revealed some good news:

  • The average currently serving executive director has been in their job for 42 months, up from 18 months in 2011.
  • Sixty percent of current executive directors have a tenure of 2 years or more, while 20% were hired within the past year.

While there is still more to be done to ensure Executive Directors can survive and thrive for the long run, this represents significant progress. This change is thanks to the talented leaders who take on these roles, the support of their organizations, and, we believe, our work at the Federation to strengthen executive leadership.

From helping search committees recruit and hire the right people to providing executive coaching and a strong peer network to those in the job, we strive to partner with leaders and their organizations throughout their tenure.

A centerpiece of that effort is our annual New Executive Director Boot Camp. It’s a chance to help new leaders learn best practices and figure out what questions they should be asking in all aspects of their job, from managing the organization’s finances to working with their boards to navigating the personal challenges of being a community leader.

“The New Executive Director Boot Camp taught me so much about how to effectively run a statewide LGBTQ organization, and how to keep focused on the appropriate things,” said new Executive Director Patrick Paschall of FreeState Justice in Maryland.

Early in 2017, we’ll invite new state leaders from Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, and Wyoming at our Executive Director Bootcamp to an intensive two days of learning together.


In our survey, we also looked at executive compensation for the 27 organizations that provided it. As of June 2016, the median salary was $80,000 — with the lowest at $32,000 and the highest at $170,000. As shown below, we see a wide range of salaries among organizations with similar budgets. This range may be due to differences in the local cost of living, the level of experience and tenure of the executive, and the competitiveness of the local market for non-profit and political professionals. This data offers one benchmark, along with in-state non-profit salary studies, for assessing how competitive an organization’s executive compensation package is.

Looking Forward
Of course, looking at tenure and compensation only shows part of the picture. Ultimately, successful leaders are judged by how they mobilize others to achieve real progress for LGBTQ people. In our daily work with state organizations, we’re consistently inspired by the remarkable acts of leadership we see from both new and long-serving executive directors who are working for change in their communities.

  • When an anti-LGBTQ constitutional amendment, SJR 39, suddenly came up in the Missouri legislature, new executive director Steph Perkins and his team at PROMO swung into action, mobilizing an unprecedented filibuster and online campaign that defeated the bill.
  • On Coming Out Day, Chuck Smith and the team at Equality Texas launched a multi-platform project called #TransTuesdays. Part of their Trans Visible Project, #TransTuesdays uses social media to highlight the stories of transgender people across Texas.
  • Mere days before the Republican National Convention swept into town, Alana Jochum and the team at Equality Ohio successfully passed a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance, specifically protection transgender people in public accommodations, through Cleveland City Council. See below for Alana’s incredible FedTalk at the 2016 Leadership Conference

Those are just three of the amazing executive directors who, along with their staff, boards, organizational partners and supporters, are making a difference every day. Through our State Leadership Project, Equality Federation is proud to continue developing and supporting the people who are winning equality in the communities we call home.

The State of the States survey is distributed in the spring of each year to all current Equality Federation member organizations. The survey is sent by email as part of our member recertification, and responses are collected over several months. The most current data was submitted by 38 organizations. Each year, the survey includes approximately 25 questions, some with multiple responses. Some organizations choose not to complete every question, leaving some answers blank. Equality Federation has 40 members as of November 2016.

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Mel King

Mel King is the Development and Operations Manager for Equality Federation, the national strategic partner to state-based organizations working to win equality in the communities we call home. In this role, he manages the individual giving program and the donor database, as well as operations for the communications department and internal systems. He also serves as the board liaison.

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